Literature and Psychoanalysis

By Edith Kurzweil; William Phillips | Go to book overview

General Introduction

THE COUPLING OF literature and psychoanalysis goes back to Freud himself. A new world of research and speculation began when he observed that the creative faculty draws on drives and fantasies buried in the unconscious, and that they provide the clue to understanding the imaginative mind as well as individual works. Freud also noted the parallels between literary composition and such common activities as children's play and daydreaming, and between literature and myths, which reveal the fantasies of entire communities and nations and even of the whole of early humanity.

Originally Freud thought that the force of such works as Oedipus Rex and Hamlet derived from the fact that their central themes touched on the psychic experience of modern man. He also believed that the unconscious of the writer was connected to that of the reader by the neuroses they shared. Later he placed more emphasis on literary talent and skill, though he felt that its secrets could not be explained by psychoanalysis. Freud's greatest contribution, however, was probably in the subtle application of his theories and discoveries to individual writers and artists, in the course of which he modified some of his earlier views.

Since then, Freud's original remarks have been expanded, developed, modified, and transformed, in an enormous mass of writing, turned out by psychoanalysts of various schools and by very different kinds of critics, coming from every conceivable position, and going in all directions. The diversity of themes and approaches has been so great that we can scarcely speak of a single subject -- or a single question. What we have is a bewildering variety of subjects, methods, and assumptions. Countless books and essays have dealt with the creative process, the relation of literature to psychoanalytic theory, the links between writers'

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